1. Base/Aerobic/Recovery Session: It doesn’t matter what you call it. This session is the ‘bread and butter’ of any cardiovascular fitness training program. It involves maintaining a steady pace usually somewhere between 65% and 85% of your maximum heart rate. If you aren’t a mathematical person then I recommend that you set a pace for this session so that when you finish, you feel like you could still do more. Of course, don’t do more, you will need your energy for the other sessions. This is the kind of session that you see most people do in the gym EVERY day. This is a very good way to establish a base level of fitness but it is also a very poor way to improve your fitness and an easy way to get bored and stale with your training. I recommend this session once a week for beginners starting at 30mins and increasing by 10% per week.
2. Threshold Session: Threshold sessions are so named as our aim is to have you training at or just below your anaerobic threshold (the point at which your body starts producing lactic acid and a greater proportion of carbon dioxide). Threshold sessions are the fastest way to improve your cardiovascular fitness in a short period of time. If I could only do 1 session per week (I would never choose 1 session per week but hypothetically speaking!!), this is what I would choose. Again, this is a steady state session but at a high intensity. Think 12min Run Test or a 5km time trial. You should NOT feel like you can do anymore at the end of this session.
3. Tolerance Session: Tolerance sessions are simply sessions where we bust through the anaerobic threshold and perform intervals or sprints followed by a period of recovery. There are so many variations of intervals that it is impossible to get bored. The most important thing to remember when performing tolerance sessions is INTENSITY. You need to perform the intervals hard, otherwise you are just doing another base or threshold session. Work hard and recover well. The first big mistake people make when doing these sessions is not working hard enough during the intervals. The second mistake is not allowing sufficient recovery to return to another maximal effort. A typical session might be 6 x 400m with a 4minute recovery.
4. Fartlek Session: Fartlek or “speed play” should be used to adjust your body to a slightly higher than usual workload. By varying pace you can allow your body to adapt to training just above your anaerobic threshold for longer periods of time. This is great for training to run hills or to be able to attack during a race as well as sprint for the finish but the most valuable benefit of this training is improving your ability to run at a higher constant speed. A typical session might be 30seconds of overpaced running followed by 2mins at underpaced running, repeated 6 times.
The most difficult aspect to putting these sessions together is setting appropriate levels. The best place to start is with some aerobic testing. From there, appropriate levels can be set to perform each of these sessions to obtain maximum benefit. Once you get started it’s not too complicated. Don’t be another drone on the treadmill/bike/cross trainer/rower. Use the sessions and seek some professional advice to improve your aerobic fitness rapidly and safely.